Tag Archives: YouTube

Why a $1.6B billion law suit for non-payment of royalties is not likely to affect Spotify’s March IPO

Spotify recently filed confidential plans for an initial public offering to take place on March 31 on the New York Stock Exchange were thrown a curve when it was sued by Wixen Music Publishing for damages of at least $1.6 billion and injunctive relief. 

Wixen accused the Swedish company of streaming thousands of its their artists songs without compensation. Wixen’s 2,000 members include Tom Petty, Neil Young, the Doors and the Beachboys, which Variety says represent between 1% and 5% of music streamed.

Spotify has an estimated valuation of about $19 billion and $3 billion in annual revenues. As of fall 2017, the leading streaming platform had accumulated 140 million regular users, including 60 million paid subscribers. Initially, its shares will trade privately, allowing some early investors to cash out.

It would be the first major company to carry out a direct listing, an unconventional way to pursue an IPO. Spotify plans to simply list its shares on the NYSE and let them trade, and, for now at least, will not raise additional capital.

Silver Lining?

Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s General Counsel, was recruited from Microsoft in 2016 where he learned the licensing business under the stewardship of Marshall Phelps, an IP licensing pioneer. Before establishing MS’s leading patent licensing program, Phelps helped generate more than $1billion in annual royalties for IBM.

My money is on Gutierrez to settle this suit in a timely manner and for Spotify to move on, uniquely positioned for success.

“Forcing Spotify to step up and enter into an agreement with a major publisher that is fairer to its artists may expose the streaming site to similar deals, but it will also solidify its reputation as the content leader amid streaming services,” an industry observer told IP CloseUp. “It will likely set a precedent for others industry deals of this nature and make it more difficult for Pandora, YouTube, and others to continue paying token royalties.”

Wixen’s lawsuit, reports Rolling Stone, follows several other lawsuits that have focused on Spotify’s alleged failure to pay [appropriate] royalties on a song’s musical composition. Recorded songs have two separate copyrights: The sound recording, which is typically owned by the record label, and the musical composition (also known as the “mechanical license”), which is owned by the songwriter and publisher.

In 2017, Spotify settled a class action brought by Cracker front-man and artists rights activist, David Lowery and another artist, for $43 million.

Proposed Changes

In the meantime, the Music Modernization Act, a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives on December 21, would impact copyright holders suing over mechanical reproduction after Jan. 1, 2018, which helps explain the New Year’s Eve lawsuit filing.

“We are very disappointed that these services will retroactively get a free pass for actions that were previously illegal unless we actually file suit before Jan. 1, 2018,” said Wixen president Randall Wixen in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Neither we nor our clients are interested in becoming litigants, but we have been faced with a choice of forfeiting rights and damages, or taking action at this time.”

Image source: slashergear.com; wikipedia.org

Royalty rates paid musicians decline for some streaming services

When it comes to getting paid, the bigger streaming service is not necessarily better for most musicians and song writers.

While the revenue and market share have grown for the leading streaming services, some significantly, the royalties paid to artists have been declining.

According to a recent article in The Trichordist, a publication dedicated to the protection of artists rights in the digital age, streaming royalties paid to artists declined in 2017.

The blog took snapshots from a major indie portfolio for 2017, 2016 and 2013. It found that “when streaming numbers grow, the per stream rate will drop.”

This data set is isolated to the calendar year 2016 and represents a label with an approximately 150 album catalog generating over 115 million streams, a fairly good sample size. All rates are gross before distribution fees.

Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play rate dropped to .00437 in 2016, a reduction of 16%, reports the Trichordist. The current effective per stream rate at Spotify has now dropped to 0.00397, a reduction of 9% since last year. This a cumulative reduction of 24% since 2014, which is an average decrease of 8% a year of the per stream rate.

Business Model Questions

“If the music business could set a per stream rate that allowed revenue growth, proportionate to consumption growth that would be a much better model,” said David Lowery, editor of The Trichordist and leader of the band Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Lowery teaches in the Music Business Certificate Program at Terry College of Business, University of Georgia.

A notable change from last year is that Pandora replaces YouTube with the greatest value gap of streams at 21.56% volume with only 7.86% of revenue. YouTube drops to 8.38% of volume with only 1.70% of revenue.

Indie Label Sample: 115 Million Streams

Top Players

Apple appears to be the lone streaming service that is growing both in market share and revenue, and is paying relatively high royalties. It accounts for 22.29% of the revenue on 10.48% of the streams, and pays approximately six-times the per-stream royalty rate of Pandora. (Apple’s iTunes is a direct purchase model, while Pandora offers a more radio-like format, which precludes on demand listener selection.)

More than 95% of the streams and 98% of the revenue were concentrated in the top ten companies. The top three, Spotify, Apple iTunes and Pandora, comprise about 80% of the streams for this representative catalogue and 82% of the total streaming revenue.

For The Trichordist‘s 2017 streaming sample, go here; 2016, here; and 2013 here.

Image source: thetrichordist.com

 

2018 in focus: Videos from IP Awareness Summit explore better IP understanding

The IP Awareness Summit 2017 was the first IP event to focus on perception and awareness of intellectual rights and their impact.

Videos of panel discussions, held at Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology on November 6, have been posted to YouTube and the IPAS event website.

More than a record of the Summit, these videos move the IP awareness discussion to a new level, and are worth perusing whether or not you attended IPAS. (Some observers choose to view/listen while multi-tasking.)

IP Erosion

The presentations include economist and entrepreneur David Teece’s keynote, “IP Erosion: A Growing Threat to U.S. Economic Leadership.”

To access the IP Awareness YouTube channel, please enter “IP Awareness” on YouTube, or go here.

Panelists and their current or prior affiliations are identified on YouTube, beneath the videos.

All eight videos are centralized and can be accessed from the IPAS 2017 website, here. 

For specific IPAS panels, click or tap below.

IP Education Today

Identifying Good and Bad IP Behavior (intro)

Identifying Good and Bad IP Behavior (panel)

IP and Theft: The High Cost of Confusion

Keynote – David Teece, The Tusher Center, UC Berkeley-Haas School of Business
“IP Rights Erosion: A Growing Threat to U.S. Economic Leadership”

Media Coverage and IP

Making IP Awareness a Higher Priority

Breakouts: Impediments to IP Understanding

 

Feel free to tweet, post or otherwise share the IPAS YouTube videos with others. You can also send your thoughts and comments to explore@understandingip.org.

 

Image source: understandingip.org

Music royalties – a siren song for niche investors seeking higher yield

A small but growing number of investors are buying the rights to musician’s future earnings, hoping to beat the fixed income returns and other markets.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “Music Royalties Strike a Chord, these fixed income investors are lured by future returns of 8%-12% annually, when junk bonds are still hovering around 6%.

Private equity funds have raise or begun to raise $1 billion since 2013 when this sector appeared to be an alternative to low yields on fixed income.

There are a several types of royalties that can be sold, either for a specified period of time or until they expire. (For works created on or after January 1, 1978, it is life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship.)

David Bowie infamously sold his future copyright earnings for $55 million (“Bowie” Bonds), only to have new technology like Napster devalue them. [See, “The Bonds that Fell to Earth,” in the January 15, 2016 IP CloseUp.) The financing did wonders for Bowie balance sheet, although not all investors made out so well.

High Yield

Bowie Bonds paid 7.9% for ten years, at which time, I believe, they reverted back to the mercurial artist. He never lost ownership of all of his songs; he merely licensed the future earnings to some of them for a period of time.

Songs can also earn money when they are performed live, played in a restaurant or film, or streamed through a service like Spotify. They still do not make money from radio airplay (a legacy from old tech, when it was about selling records). Songwriters, music publishers, artists and labels own various rights, including performance rights.

WSJ reports that in the 2Q Denver-based website Royalty Exchange held music rights auctions valued at $2.5M, more than double the total from the 4Q 2016.  Royalty Exchange publishes a guide to music royalties, here.  It is a transaction site, so it is best to speak to a lawyer or experienced IP broker before buying.

Risk to music royalty streams includes timing, trends and technological threats. A song that generates a steady stream of income today is not necessarily going to in five or fifteen years. On the other hand, a small handful could actually generate more revenue than expected. Receivables, or royalty stream financing, takes place in many industries, including energy, real estate and sports.

Streaming Rises

The renewed interest in music royalties may due in part to increased royalty payments by services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple, which, similar to YouTube, have been notoriously reluctant to pay creatives fairly for content. But increases have been negligible for most performers and song writers, and top recording artists with leverage tend to cut their own distribution deals.

With disdain for IP rights on the rise, it is somewhat encouraging that niche investors still believe in the integrity of copyrights and the reliability of their income stream. For them to succeed they will need cooperation from streaming services, as well as songwriters and performers.

Image source: myradio360.com; entertainment.howstuffworks.com 

 

New book: tech elites’ disregard for privacy & IP must be managed

Can Internet monopolies – adept at providing at providing information – be prevented from violating the rights of individuals, businesses and IP holders, and impeding innovation?

They can if they are regulated like utilities, says Jonathan Taplin in his new book, Move Fast and Break Things.

In 2009, Mark Zuckerberg told Business Insider publisher and former Wall Street analyst Henry Bloget, “Move fast and break things is Facebook’s prime directive to developers. Unless you are breaking stuff,” Zuckerberg said, “you are not moving fast enough.”

Eight years later, this Facebook mantra has taken on a darker meaning. A new book by Hollywood producer and former USC Annenberg Innovation Lab director, Taplin (Mean Streets, The Last Waltz), offers a portrait of technology giants without restraints, routinely violating the rights of creatives, consumers and innovators, and propping up their own shares at the expense of investing in the future.

Subtitled How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Under-mined Democracy, Move Fast and Break Things dissects the inordinate power of a handful of the popular companies and their founders, and what it means for culture, innovation, and personal freedom.

What Taplin does best is connect the dots by distinguishing between true break-through ideas and the ability to provide and mine data, especially personal information, for profit and dominate markets. The confluence of vision, ego, and wealth is for Taplin a dangerous mix that needs to be carefully watched if not closely monitored. Copyright and patent holders need to be especially wary.

Don’t Ask Permission

“The co-founder of YouTube, Chad Hurley, was a PayPal alumnus, schooled in Peter Thiel’s philosophy,” writes Taplin. “He built his company on the same ‘don’t ask permission’ ethic the Larry Page had embraced… ‘Who will stop me?’ [A phrase which can be found in Ayn Rand’s controversial novel, The Fountainhead.] This became the center tenet of Internet disrupters, from Thiel’s PayPal right up to Travis Kalanick’s Uber.”

Taplin writes that Google, who championed the tagline for its corporate code of conduct, “Do no evil,” controls 88% of online searches and search advertising, while Facebook has 77% market share in social media and Amazon a 70% share of e-book sales. He does not consider Apple a monopoly because its main hardware business has many competitors.

“The tech elites jealous guarding of its own monopoly platforms,” says Taplin, “is built upon a blatant disregard for the artist’s intellectual property.”

“More people than ever are listening to music, reading books, and watching movies, but the revenue flowing to the creators of that content is decreasing while the revenue flowing to the big four platforms is increasing. Each of these platforms presents a different challenge for creators. Google and YouTube are ad-supported ‘free-riders’ driven by a permission-less philosophy.”

Permission-less free-riding, or “efficient infringement” in has also come to dominate other parts of the IP workplace, rendering simple patent licenses more arduous than ever.

Consent Decree

How does Taplin propose we prevent Internet monopolies from violating the rights of individuals, businesses and IP holders, and impeding innovation? You regulate them like utilities.

It would be very difficult for many people and businesses to live without Amazon, Google, YouTube and Facebook, but it is becoming impossible for many who produce intellectual property to live with them.

This is not something that their founders and shareholders want to hear, but it may be inevitable. Europe is more apt to regulate BigTech than the U.S. – and it is not mere jealousy. If Google, for example, is indeed a monopoly, Taplin, a former tour manager for Bob Dylan, asks, would a consent decree like the one that the government made Bell Labs enter into in 1956 work? He believes it would.

Easy Ride is Over

The Guardian, the British daily, said “Move Fast and Break Things is a timely and useful book because it provides an antidote to the self-serving narrative energetically cultivated by the digital monopolies. They have had an easy ride for too long and democracies will, sooner or later, have to rein them in.”

It would be very difficult for many people and businesses to live without Amazon, Google, YouTube and Facebook, but it is becoming virtually impossible for many who produce intellectual property to live with them.

My full review of Jonathan Taplin’s new book can be found here, on IP Watchdog.

For more information or to buy Move Fast and Break Things, go here.

For a free preview chapter (via Google), go here.

Image source: jontaplin.com

 

Licensing deal with IP rights group ends YouTube blackout in Germany – “no more red faces”

Tens of thousands of recording artists and musicians in Germany will be receiving payment for their content under the terms of agreement struck last week between YouTube and GEMA, Germany’s leading royalty collection group.

The deal will end a seven-year YouTube ban in Germany, which had previously blocked access to the streaming site over non-payment of performance royalties. It is unclear if the pact is a harbinger of things to come in the ongoing battle between streaming sites, search engines and content providers, such as musicians, or if it includes published works, like books and photographs.

Resolution of the dispute, reports The New York Times, comes “with European officials revamping the region’s copyright rules to give more power to music labels, publishers and other content producers over the likes of Google, which owns YouTube, and Facebook.”

“We remained true to our position that authors should also get a fair remuneration in the digital age, despite the resistance we met,” Harald Heker, GEMA’s chief executive, said in a statement. He added that the agreement covered future royalties, as well as those accrued over the last seven years.

Blocking alert that German YouTube users will no longer see

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“This is a win for music artists around the world, enabling them to reach new and existing fans in Germany, while also earning money from the advertising on their videos,” YouTube’s Christophe Muller told TorrentFreak, a publication dedicated to bringing the latest news about copyright, privacy, and everything related to filesharing.

TorrentFreak also reports that “Increasingly, music groups are criticizing YouTube for ‘profiting’ from the hard work of artists without paying proper compensations, so it’s not unlikely that similar deals will follow in other countries.”

A prominent L.A.-based producer told IP CloseUp that the deal (which deal? The deals in other countries? “that such deals in other countries”) “appears to be progress,” but Google (which owns YouTube) is too big for the little record companies to fight. “Whenever they try collective action, Google runs to the anti trust authorities.”

Agreement that the Internet has been bad for the music business is not universal. Factors that influence “free” distribution depend on a label’s size, the popularity of its artists and their point-of-view about how best to generate income. Sony has said that impeding YouTube costs the music industry millions of dollars.

One of the people who embraces this positive view of streaming is Edgar Berger, Sony Music’s CEO of international business. In a recent interview he stressed the importance of the Internet, while noting that the increase in Internet sales almost makes up for the decline in physical sales. See a summary of the interview, here.

“There is absolutely nothing to complain about. The Internet is a great stroke of luck for the music industry, or better: the Internet is a blessing for us,” Berger said.

No More Red Faces

“The [GEMA] deal means YouTube will unblock thousands of clips in Germany for the first time in seven years,” wrote Bloomberg News. “When German music fans in the past tried to watch videos of their favorite songs they only got an youtube-sad-face-300x159error message showing a red YouTube sad face with a line saying the content was banned from the portal for copyright reasons.”

The parties did not disclose financial details of the agreement. YouTube has, in the past, struck similar deals with dozens of groups around the world, including one in 2009 with the U.K.’s PRS for Music.

The groups also did not say if YouTube’s familiar sad red face would be replaced with a happy green one.

Image source: theheureka.com

EU copyright reform – A leap forward or step back?

Reforms to copyright law proposed last week by the European Commission would put the burden on Internet companies like Google, Facebook and YouTube to prevent online piracy and compensate content providers, like music companies and news providers. 

In a shift in policy the proposals issued by the European Commission would require websites that host video and stream music to shoulder more responsibility for rooting out copyright infringements.

Under the current rules, reports the Financial Times, YouTube, Facebook and other video platforms remove material on a case-by-case basis only after being notified by rights-holders. If adopted, the proposals would require them to run proactive software checks to determine whether content they are hosting contained copyright material.

Preventing Piracy

The European Commission proposal is intended to prevent piracy, which has haunted the music industry and recording artists which has shed more than 60% of its value since 2000, and to prop up content providers like newspapers and magazines, which have seen declines in print circulation.

leaked-copyright-communicationThe reforms aim the foundation of a long-running fight between struggling traditional media companies — from record labels to newspapers — and the technology groups that increasingly dominate online media.

Critics say the EC is seeking to shift the responsibility for identifying copyrighted content by requiring Internet companies that host user uploaded video, such as YouTube and Facebook, to proactively check for copyrighted material, rather than waiting to receive a take down request from a rights holder.

Industry trade publication TechCrunch reports that “The draft directive also includes a proposal for a new right for news publishers covering digital use of their content for 20 years. Unsurprisingly, Google is not a fan of this.”

This extended right is similar to ancillary copyright laws already enacted by governments in Germany and Spain which target search engines displaying snippets of news stories.

Mandatory Fee

The law as enacted in Spain included a mandatory fee for displaying snippets, one line summaries from publishers, and led to Google to pull its Google News service in the country. While many Germany publishers waived their rights in favor of retaining the traffic Google sends their way.

Whether YouTube’s free site is directly competing with paid services such as Apple Inc.’s Apple Music and Spotify AB is a matter of debate, reports the Wall Street Journal. According to a YouTube spokeswoman, “users come to YouTube to watch all kinds of different videos. The average YouTube user spends an average of an hour a month consuming music, far less than music-only platforms.”

The European Commission’s proposals, which come after a three-year review aimed at updating copyright law for the digital age, could take years to ratify. The proposals have been—and are likely to remain—the subject of heavy lobbying from copyright holders like record labels and newspaper publishers on one hand, and technology firms on the other.

Give-Backs?

It will be interesting to to see if the EU will be successful in rolling back what Internet users have come to believe is free content that until now has not been seriously policed.

A draft of the proposed EU reforms can be found here.

Image source:1709blog.com; openforumeurope.org

Musicians want fairer streaming fees; inventors want patent licenses

In a digital world, fair compensation for creative expression or new ideas, like music and inventions, requires more determination than ever.

Intellectual property piracy has become an insidious problem, affecting a wide range of  individuals and industries, including recording and technology.

The effect of low payment – as opposed to no payment – has been particularly harsh on recording artists. They have had the challenge of policing the frequently unauthorized use of their work, getting their music taken down (and kept down), and being paid fairly by valuable streaming services who claim that they are not profitable.

Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and others have made it difficult for artists to permanently take down songs and videos that they are not being fairly paid for or that should not have been posted in the first place. While fans may enjoy the mostly free access, it has made it extremely difficult for less well-known artists to survive in the industry. For most of the big names, the possible loss in recording revenue can be made up in performances and merchandising.

Musicians: Update the Law

Napster was a turning point.  Shut down by court order in 2001 after just two years of operation, the online service enabled MP3 files to be easily shared. The recording industry and artists had little choice but to respond by surrendering preventing the digital distribution of their work or accepting the poor terms – if they were even offered. Streaming services legitimized file-sharing. It’s been more than a decade since Napster was shut down, and artists and labels are finally fighting back about the meager pay rates for their material. They are demanding, among other things, that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) a 1998 law, be updated.

They want to change the law so that music and video streaming services will be required to remove permanently material that they are not authorized to provide. It will be interesting to see if Congress complies.

YouTube claims that it has paid out over $3b in royalties, although that amount was initially attributed to all of Google, YouTube’s parent company. Bank of America values YouTube at $80b, more than all but 66 of the S&P 500 companies. (An article from Bloomberg News is worth reading, here.)

Don’t get me wrong. YouTube is a convenient, well-organized service that offers consumers an affordable alternative to network and cable TV and iTunes.  It claims to have paid some 15 million content providers. But the-1x-1 question is what amounts and to whom?

Angry Headliners, Too

In an article in the The New York Times, “Music World Bands Together Against YouTube, Seeking Change to Law,” it was reported that while YouTube is a vital platform for promoting song and discovering new talent, “it has never been a substantial source of revenue and is a vexing outlet for leaks and unauthorized materials.”

Now, even highly successful artists like Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Billy Joel have signed letters asking for United States copyright laws to be changed.

It is no accident that recording and visual artists face similar obstacles as other IP holders – notably inventors and patent holders. Since passage of the America Invents Act, it has been anything but easy for patent holders to stop the unauthorized use of their invention rights, or to get fairly paid for them.

Consumers are Complicit

“New services and platforms are great for consumers,” says Johathan Taplin, a music and film producer who has worked with Bob Dylan and Martin Scorsese, “but our weak laws have allowed them to siphon revenue away for the underlying music, leaving song-writers, performers and the he whole industry choking on their dust.”

Taplin is Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. See Do you love music? Silicon Valley doesn’t.”

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

In 2015, after years of battling pirates, Prince, an innovator in controlling the distribution of his work, said in an interview that the Internet “was over for anyone who wants to get paid.”

Let’s hope that blatant disregard of the source of creative expression and new ideas will not continue unchallenged. For less well-known musicians and visual artists who depend on revenue from streaming and copyrighted songs as a means of survival the future may be a little less bleak. Young tech companies, inventors and universities, who are finding difficulty securing patent licenses have yet to turn the corner.

 

Image source: nytimes.com; bloomberg.com; BofA/Merrill Lynch Global Research

Angry musicians are pushing back on royalties – Will inventors follow?

Song writers may have something to teach inventors when it comes to getting a fair share for their intellectual property rights, or not.  

Confusion faced by writers and performers in the recording industry over “legal” downloading of copyrighted work by aggregators like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube have forced a range of musicians to question the logic of an overly complex and chronically opaque royalty payment system.

With most music streaming services using copyrighted content for free, or almost free, confusion has given way to anger and frustration.

Who Said Fair? 

The primary issue right now for many copyright holders is not a matter of the legitimacy of their rights, but how much is fair payment for frequent use? In at least one important way, song writers are way ahead of inventors, who hold more encompassing, but frequently uncertain, patent rights. For them, the first hurdle is whether their invention is innovative in the eyes of the changing law — a challenge, even under the best of circumstances. Then, it needs to be determined if the invention is indeed being used (infringed) and by whom, and how much they should be compensated. (Did you think innovation could be so much fun?)

There are reasons why patent licensing has become synonymous with costly litigation. With high-tech inventions today, virtually no one takes a license unless they are forced to. Why should they? Exactly who are the bad actors is not always clear.

Inventors and patent holders can learn from the tension between recording artists and their intermediaries (publishers and record labels), and distributors (e.g. Spotify). To be fair, most of these streaming services are not very profitable. Still, they are building bold business model and creating value on the backs of musicians and publishers. Both song writers and inventors (or those assigned to hold their patents) do not have much negotiating leverage when it comes to 02byrne-master675collecting a fair share of royalties. For patent holders attempting to out-license for revenue, it is frequently sue or get nothing at all – and that’s no bargaining position.

Historically, there has been little transparency regarding the deals made to use copyrighted songs, and today it is no different. There are few standards and the information provided about deals is asymmetric. Basically, the pricing is what ever the distribution channel (and the labels) can get away with, and they both no longer see a much of need for publishers, who they would prefer to cut out. Headliners have more leverage and can benefit from free exposure (more concerts, merchandise licensing) in ways that less well-known artists cannot.

The Business, as Usual

A recent New York Times article, “Music Artists Take on the Business, Calling for Change,” acknowledged that more musicians are fed up about their participation in benefits of the new distribution technologies and have begun to demand a better accounting. It helped when Taylor Swift refused to take no royalties during a three-month trial period on Apple Radio’s. (Would Apple allow customers to use a new iPhone for free until they deemed it worth purchasing? Oh, you say, doesn’t Apple have an R&D investment and the copyright holders are just pulling tunes out of the air?)

Ms. Swift was probably thinking more about her own interests, but they affected the entire industry, and Apple got the message.

“‘The support that we’re seeing, in terms of the range and number of artists, whether it’s from somebody who’s a working-class musician to somebody who’s very successful, it’s unprecedented,’ said Ted Kalo, the executive director of MusicFirst, a lobbying coalition that includes record labels and musicians’ groups and that helped organize the social media campaign.

“The economics behind downloads is relatively simple: Typically about 70 percent of a song’s retail price goes to a record company, which then pays its musicians according to its contracts. But with streaming, the system is complex and often opaque, as became apparent in May, when an outdated licensing contract between Sony and Spotify was leaked online, showing the elaborate formulas used in computing streaming rates.

“Public relations missteps in the early 2000s kept many musicians from speaking out about economic issues, artists and executives said. Those include the music industry’s lawsuits against thousands of fans for online file-sharing, and the pillorying that the band Metallica received after it sued Napster for copyright infringement. But the shift toward streaming in recent years has prompted many musicians to investigate the changes in the business…”

A Bottle of Wine

“New businesses are being built on this cheap almost free use of copyrights,” said Steve Loeb, a producer of more a dozen albums for Riot, a heavy metal band. “It’s sad but has always been this way. Now we’re all Black blues artists, if you catch the drift. They used to pay those guys with a bottle of wine – now they pay all of us that way.”

“Most artists don’t have the intellect to understand what is going on affects their future and music quality,” continues Loeb, who closed his successful Greene St. Recording in 2001. “Inventors don’t appear to be much smarter when it comes to how their work is used. Royalty payments are a complex process that’s become even more complicated with new technology, and few are willing spend the time to understand it.”

Pandora’s market value is about $3 billion; Spotify’s is over $8 billion. Bank of America analyst Justin Post believes that YouTube’s value on its own is about $70 billion. 

Black Box 

In a Times op-ed, “Open the Music Industry’s Black Box,” David Bryne, a musician and author, said

“Everyone should be celebrating — but many of us who create, perform and record music are not. Tales of popular artists (as popular as
02artists-web4-articleLargePharrell Williams) who received paltry royalty checks for songs that streamed thousands or even millions of times (like “Happy”) on Pandora or Spotify are common. Obviously, the situation for less-well-known artists is much more dire. For them, making a living in this new musical landscape seems impossible… Perhaps the biggest problem artists face today is that lack of transparency.

“Some of these ideas regarding openness are radical — ‘disruptive’ is the word Silicon Valley might use — but that’s what’s needed. It’s not just about the labels either. By opening the Black Box, the whole music industry, all of it, can flourish. There is a rising tide of dissatisfaction, but we can work together to make fundamental changes that will be good for all.”

More Transparency

Patent holders are frustrated with the uncertainly of issued patents, whose validity must be proven repeatedly before review boards, in the courts and in appeals.

Will they respond as an increasing number of musical artists have and demand more certainty and transparency?

It’s important to remember that what makes patent licensing easier for some, makes it more expensive for others. That’s why those well-situated on the corner of technology and brand are compelled to determine what is truly innovative and its value before others do.

Patent holders: Both of the provocative articles above are worth reading.

Image source: nyt.com

 

Big Media is Buying into YouTube Networks; IP Battles May Loom

New sources of content created independently, produced cheaply and distributed on YouTube are challenging network and cable TV dominance.

The impact on copyright and brand licensing is unclear.

If you are over 25, or so, you may be too old to notice it, but changes are taking place that are altering how and by whom television content gets developed and delivered to different audiences. It’s no surprise that YouTube, a once fledgling music video portal owned by Google, is at the center.

In a compelling cover story in the current Bloomberg Businessweek, “YouTube: Hollywood’s New Hit Factory,” the magazine looks as how new technology and shifting demographics (and shrinking attention spans) are changing television and content as we know it. The future of youth entertainment, the magazine reports, is not in broadcast or cable TV but in short-form digital videos, particularly on YouTube. The article steers clear of copyright and trademark issues, but those are sure to follow.

Several of the Top 30 YouTube Networks already are in play. AT&T, Disney, Warner Brothers, Hearst-Fox and Comcast all have either bought YouTube networks Fullscreen-Black-Logoor are considering it.

Just how popular are these fledgling networks? Maker Studios, for example, which was bought by Disney for $950M is ranked number three with more than 33 million total unique views. (See the Top 30 YouTube Networks guide here very worthwhile.)

It’s difficult to say whether MCNs (multichannel networks) will simply remain a “minor league” for the network, cable and even feature film industry, or it will be a viable medium of its own. If it can get organized and the revenue can be generated, I’m betting that it will evolve into a viable medium the way cable has.

*****

Google bought YouTube for $1.7B in 2006 and focused on improving the sites technology and fending off copyright suits. Not it appears many of those who were fighting it are joining the party. YouTube has started to take an active role in original programming, encouraging entrepreneurs, producers, and established TV stars to start channels, which on YouTube refers to a collection of videos hosted by an individual or by a creative team.

“Rather than create all the programming themselves,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek,”the MCNs were recruiting tens of thousands of independent YouTube creators, from the semi-prominent to the obscure. Each of the MCNs offered a slightly different slate of services, but they generally promised aspiring YouTube talent that, for a cut of gross revenue (typically 30 percent), the MCN would get them more attention and make them more money. Sign up with us, kid, we’ll make you a star.”

Authors and some musicians, many prominent, also have been bypassing traditional distribution channels for self publishing. Controlling the rights to content will not be easy, but it maker-studios-disney-600x369can be done.

While it looks like more opportunities for artists and and content providers, such as writers, musicians and comics, it remains to be seen what these deals will look like for them and how much control will they maintain.

*****

“With summer TV ratings falling, the domestic movie box office down sharply, and upfront sales of TV advertising surprisingly weak,” Businessweek continues, “a slew of mergers, acquisitions, and investment has shaken the YouTube cosmos. Big media companies, which a few years ago were furiously filing copyright lawsuits against YouTube, are jostling for a piece of the action.

“DreamWorks—the studio behind animated franchises such as Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda—has landed on Planet YouTube with a healthy respect for the native culture.”

*****

With the early upfront costs defrayed by talent agencies, Hollywood studios, and Google itself, in exchange for a piece of the action, the rights on content and brand deals are important parts of the narrative yet to be told. Stay tuned.

Related stories: IBTimes – Why Big Media is Snapping up YouTube Networks; Forbes: Do All Big Media Companies Need to Up Their YouTube Game?

 

Image sources: turnstylenews.com; tubefilter.com

Occupy IP: New Economy Businesses Clash with Old

It May be Too Much, Too Late for Content Providers Finally Trying to Tame the Internet; a Fresh Approach is Needed

[The following appears as an “Insider Views” commentary on Intellectual Property Watch]

Have copyright holders become their own worst enemies?

Poorly drafted bills in the U.S. Senate and Congress designed to curb music and other Internet piracy, in some cases by holding information aggregators who enable it responsible, is fueling a new wave of anger towards lawmakers and copyright holders.

SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, The Protect IP Act, will need to be heavily reworked if they are to pass and be accepted.

Part of the problem is that for the past 20 years or so the music industry failed to successfully enforce its copyrights on the Internet and curb piracy from Asia. Now, experiencing the desperation of a dying industry, it believes it must do something. They reason that even the Wild West was tamed, eventually. A generation of file-sharing listeners and content users does not agree. There is fear that any intervention in the Internet or restriction is a potential threat to individual freedoms and will promote spying and stifle innovation. Many believe that controls do not have to play out that way.

In my not-so-humble opinion the Internet — and social networks in particular– can and should have some borders. Rampant abuses, not just to copyright holders but individuals’ personal information, have been swept under the rug. It’s difficult to say what form the oversight should take, or how much is onerous, but the current situation is dangerous and too important to ignore.

The film and book publishing industries are not far behind the foibles of the music business. Google has tried to post all books and force blanket agreements on authors, great for readers and even some writers, but not for those who live by book sales. For better or worse content-capturing or file sharing has become to many an acceptable way of life, and piracy is now simply the new technology doing its digital thing — not.

Enablers or Pirates?

Some say content providers need new business models that incorporate innovative technologies and the current culture. I’m not so sure the problem is that easily resolved. Sweden-based Spotify, for example, relies on copyrighted content deals negotiated directly with the labels and some artists. Not all agree that is they best place or deal for their content. Eventually, they may not have much of a choice. The major recording artists at least may have some bargaining leverage, the lesser names not. The French, ironically, have been tougher on file sharing than most countries, possibly because of its history of  respect for artists and innovators.

Part of the problem in the U.S. is that (1) it is the largest content provider, (2) expectations have changed from years of failed enforcement, (3) content can be expensive, and (4) today, well established, new economy information aggregators and social networks are o.k. bending privacy and ownership rules. (Their advertisers don’t seem to mind.)

Google, Facebook, YouTube and other business models depend on compelling but highly accessible content to prosper. So, to put it crudely, it’s sort of Hollywood (content providers) vs. Silicon Valley (device and distribution owners).

While there have been attempts to work together, the fundamental differences between old and new economy businesses have kept them apart. A few artists may benefit from the free Internet visibility which may support their (paid) performances or what they can sell or license; most will not.

*   *   *

Useful Background:

Below are links to several stories and a video which help to put into context the controversy over Internet piracy and regulation. Caveat: They provide good perspective but should be digested with a hefty grain of salt.

Remember CNN-Money is owned by content provider Time Warner and YouTube distributed is owned by Google. Wikipedia has a somewhat similar perspective to Google.

– Short video: “What Is SOPA?”

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– Anti-Regulation: The Wikipedia perspective.

– Story from CNN-Money: “SOPA Explained: What it is and Why it Matters”

– From the Wall Street Journal: “What is SOPA Anyway? A Guide to Understanding the Online Piracy Bill”

– Astute Op-Ed (please read this): “It’s a mistake to think the danger is from big media choking the Internet.”

Image sources:
http://www.cwu.edu/~ryanma/piratecopyright.html
http://redd4a3.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/intellectual-property-and-my-copyright-stance-and-policies/


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